What are human rights, and how do they apply in the digital world?

These violations are primarily concerned with the misuse of personal data, which can be used for a variety of purposes ranging from targeted marketing and political microtargeting to actions that result in social exclusion and jeopardize basic human rights both online and offline. The EU adopted the General Data Protection Regulation in 2016, with the goal of protecting and safeguarding EU citizens’ personal data. Since then, all private entities operating within the EU, and in some cases beyond its borders, have been required to comply with its obligations. According to CNBC, there were more than 160.000 GDPR data breach notifications and more than EUR 100 million in fines between 2018 and 2020. Until 2020, the most severe penalty imposed under GDPR was a EUR 50 million fine imposed against Google. Data breaches and other human rights violations appear to be occurring much more quickly and easily in the digital space. In recent years, the European Court of Human Rights has issued a number of decisions concerning human rights violations in digital space. The links below provide brief overviews of cases that have been decided on, pertaining to only a few segments of human rights in digital space:

    Access to Internet and freedom to receive and impart information and ideas: 

    Hate speech: https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/FS_Hate_speech_ENG.pdf

    New technologies: https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/FS_New_technologies_ENG.pdf

Furthermore, with the development of augmented and virtual realities, one might wonder to what extent human rights will be respected in these realities and who will be in charge of ensuring that. To what extent authorities’ jurisdictions have been defined, and how will, for example, courts adapt their procedures and work in these fields?

For the time being, there are some projections based on the guiding principles that have already been established, such as through the Council of Europe’s Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member States on a Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users. Furthermore, in 2022, the European Parliament approved a proposal for a Digital Services Package—which follows the principle that what is illegal in the offline world should be illegal in the online world as well—but we are yet to see how this will work out in practice. In that sense, human rights, as well as their regulation and the definition of mechanisms for their realization, are an inexhaustible source of inspiration, particularly in the digital world.